African women where are we?


Four years since the launch of the African Women’s Decade 2010-2020, where are we?

In October 2010, the African Union launched the African women’s Decade in Nairobi – Kenya with the theme “Grassroots Approach to Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment.” The aim of the African Women’s Decade is to advance gender equality by accelerating implementation of Dakar, Beijing and AU Assembly decisions on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (GEWE), through dual top down and bottom up approaches, which is inclusive of grassroots participation.

The Decade is arguably an incredible momentum to move forward the women’s rights agenda on the continent and a framework for accelerating actions.

Since the launch of the African Women’s Decade in 2010, Make Every Woman Count have been publishing an annual report as an audit of the status and condition of women in each African country. The annual review of the African Women’s Decade evaluates the progress, or lack thereof, being made to include and promote the rights of women at country, regional, and Pan-African levels. 

In collaboration with the Solidarity for African Women’s Rights (SOAWR), The 2014 African Women’s Decade Report was launched in Addis-Ababa at the 24th African Union Summit under the theme: “Year of Women’s Empowerment and Development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063”

Four years since the launch of the African Women’s Decade 2010-2020, African Women’s rights activists and organisations have a lot to be proud of. Thanks to their efforts, there have been some important strides in terms of legislation, education, and the presence of women in decision-making across the continent.

Most African countries have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)). As of December 2014, 36 out of 54 countries have signed and ratified the Protocol to The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa known as the Maputo Protocol, with the latest being Tunisia.

Despite the obstacles and challenges they face, a growing proportion of women are breaking through the glass ceiling. Today, African women are beginning to break the political glass ceiling in many countries and finding their way in roles that were traditionally occupied by men. In January 2014, Catherine Samba-Panza became Central African Republic’s first female head of state when she became Interim President, making her the third African woman head of state. On October 26, 2014, Tunisia held legislative elections with women making up just over half of registered voters, and 47% of the candidates running for office.

In some countries, the presence of women in parliament has made a difference in the adoption of gender-sensitive policies. Because of pressure from women, some countries now have affirmative action policies, such as quotas, to increase the number of women in decision-making positions.

The year 2014 was a significant one in terms of legislation changes for institutional support to facilitate healing and justice for women survivors of sexual violence. On 1 February 2014, Algeria adopted an executive decree recognising women who have been raped during the “dark decade” as victims of terrorism. In addition, in April 2014, the Uganda’s parliament passes a resolution that acknowledges for the first time the need to provide gender-sensitive reparations to the women and men who suffered at the hands of the Lord’s Resistance Army during the 20-year insurgency in Northern Uganda, including crimes of sexual and gender-based violence.

The Moroccan parliament also addressed violence against women with an important vote in January 2014, amending a law that allowed rapists to marry their victims. Prior to this amendment, a rapist could avoid prosecution by marrying their victim, with the consent of the family if the girl was under age. The move comes two years after 16-year-old Amina al-Filali committed suicide for being forced to marry her alleged rapist to uphold her family’s honour.

Further, in June 2014, Egypt passed a law that criminalised sexual harassment, with offenders immediately being condemned following the amendment.

While access to reproductive health remains one of the biggest challenges for most African countries, the Republic of Congo-Brazzaville has made great improvements to maternal mortality, with a 50% decrease of women dying during childbirth over the last decade. It is one of the few African countries on track to meet its target for maternal mortality under the 2015 Millennium Development Goals.

While some African countries have made significant strides in expanding opportunity for women and girls, continued inequalities remain, particularly in the areas of women’s political participation and economic opportunity. Gender inequalities remain deeply entrenched in many societies in Africa. In most countries, women are excluded from the public arena; they face sexual violence, ‘honour killings’, female genital mutilation, trafficking, restricted mobility and early marriage, among others. 

Nigeria continues to be ranked as the second worst country in the world for maternal mortality and under-five deaths, as each day 2,300 under-five year olds and 145 women at childbearing age die while Niger has the highest percentage of child marriages in the world – one in three girls is married before she is 15.

Poverty and traditional customs seem to be the main barriers to overcome in order to see the condition of women improve throughout the continent. There is still a lot of work ahead with regards to policy implementation, women in decision-making positions, education, health and human rights. 

Political commitment is key to ensuring women enjoy greater rights. There is a great need to put a strong system of accountability in place to ensure that African governments turn their commitments into concrete actions. – Pambazuka News

* Rainatou Sow is a Guinean woman who founded ‘Make Every Woman Count’, an organisation operated by a team of young women in Africa, America and Europe who use their passion and experience to promote rights and empowerment of women and girls

April 2015
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